Have Your Say: What's The First Scary Film You'll Show Your Kids?

Associate Editor, Features; Rotterdam, The Netherlands (@ardvark23)
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Have Your Say: What's The First Scary Film You'll Show Your Kids?
When choosing what to see with my children, I can afford to be less and less careful these days. My youngest one is nine, the eldest thirteen, both have a healthy curiosity and appetite for adventure. Re-discovering films through their eyes has been a treat, and I can't wait to show them some classics.

Thing is, many of those classics are rather ehm... scary.

Me, I was scared of everything when I was young. Horror films intrigued me immensely, and I read everything about them I could get my hands on. But watching them? HELL no! A clip from Alien, glimpsed by me on the television when I was ten, could still result in me not properly sleeping for three days, and setting off some pretty evil nightmares for weeks. Even a tense episode of Space 1999 was enough to send me hiding in the kitchen.

Similarly, my youngest was very excited to watch Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films, but Bilbo freaking out when seeing the ring in Rivendell shocked him to tears (and no wonder; I hate that bit as well). Note: we knew that scene was coming and warned him beforehand, and made sure to sit next to him when it happened.

So yes, generally I give this a thought whenever I pick something from the library. When my eldest asked for something "like the Indiana Jones films" I showed him The Mummy Returns. I made sure not to show him the first film in that series though, because I was fairly sure he wouldn't enjoy it yet.

But am I so sure about that? Myself, scaredy-cat or not, I have fond memories of seeing Mad Max 2 and Conan The Barbarian at age 13, when our local cinema accidentally had put the wrong "12" rating on them (both were rated 16 in the Netherlands at the time).

So that is our question of the week: what is the first scary film you'll show to your children?
And at what age?
Additionally, if you've done so already, what was the result?

Chime in, in the comments below, and HAVE YOUR SAY!

(PS: Thanks to reader Finnfangfoom for giving me the idea)
(PPS: The still above is from Yang Chuan's 1983 exploitation classic Seeding of a Ghost, a film I won't show my children for years yet, for a multitude of reasons!)

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More about Have Your Say

Andrew MackJuly 4, 2017 10:31 AM

This is why I haven't spawned (Yes. *This* is the reason, Andrew). I am sure that I would be a horrible judge of tolerance levels in children. I couldn't even do it properly with my nephews and Freddy Wong's YouTube videos. There is no hope for me.

DrCakewalkJuly 4, 2017 10:56 AM

A Serbian Film. I've no interest in watching this at all, but I think it's important that children do.

Andrew MackJuly 4, 2017 11:16 AM

I needed to read this today. Bravo, sir. (slow clap)

Ard VijnJuly 4, 2017 11:28 AM

You win.
I don't know WHAT you win, but you win.

D_userJuly 4, 2017 11:59 AM

Why do kids need to be shown horror? What sort of perversity does the adult indulge in to want to show a kid a horror film? (Kid defined as = till 13 / 14 yrs old).

D_userJuly 4, 2017 12:06 PM

"but I think it's important that children do." - This needs to be elaborated upon.

God of JoyJuly 4, 2017 12:38 PM

It's a great question. I don't have kids. My first scary movie experience was Raiders of the Lost Ark at 9 years old. Not horror per say, aside from the spiders, snakes and exploding Nazi heads at the end. My parents kept me pretty sheltered from those types of things up until that point - if I had kids I'd probably try and do the same with them. My wife thinks this is silly, yet she is always the one who seeks out my opinion when we are tasked with looking after other people's kids " do you think this is too violent/scary for an eight year old? " etc. If I was in the situation of introducing a smaller kid to horror as genre, i'd probably go classic with originals : King Kong, Dracula, Cat People which are more mood than gore. Or something quirky like Buckaroo Banzai.

God of JoyJuly 4, 2017 12:42 PM

please dear god of all that is holy - may no young parent see this comment tread and take it seriously and think "oh, A Serbian Film, it's unrated so that means anyone can watch it, right?" and set up their 7 year old watching it unsupervised. I've worked in a video store, people can be that dumb.

Christopher BrownJuly 4, 2017 12:45 PM

Turns out it already happened and was Army of Darkness. I just coughed really loud when Ash cusses and covered his eyes at the one scene with boobies.

DrCakewalkJuly 4, 2017 1:00 PM

How dare you question my parenting?

Ben de KlosJuly 4, 2017 1:19 PM

The babadook obviously

I have an 11 year old nephew that is very keen on watching it. Still...even though I'm that uncle that he watches movies with that he's perhaps a little too young for (edge of tomorrow, hero, fury road, children of men, kingdom of heaven dc, he loved them all) I haven't showed him that one yet.

In general I think if they want to see it and know what they're getting in to...go for it.

A Serbian Film is an exception.

I know I watched the thing, alien, straw dogs etc when I was around 11 years old

YojimboJuly 4, 2017 1:23 PM

I wouldn't question your parenting skills Dr.
What I would question however is where did you get the children from? : )

kidlazarusJuly 4, 2017 1:52 PM

I guess my parents get the worst award... some of my earliest memories were from drive-ins. So, circa 74, when I was 5, god only knows. although the year doesn't coincide I remember seeing Twilight People at the drive-in. Beyond the Door, Phantom of the Paradise... but I distinctly remember seeing that in the theater and being mad when Winslow gets killed.

Our kids would meander into the room while we're watching things like Evil Dead, Braveheart, Hellraiser, etc. and settle in. So, I can't say I'm any better than my parents. Our youngest loves the Raimi Evil Dead trilogy. Used to raise eyebrows at kindergarten with his Evil Dead lunch box.

For kids, if they show interest, Rare Exports, Troll Hunter, Monster Squad. Though, if they're around youtube I'm sure they've seen far worse.

DrCakewalkJuly 4, 2017 1:53 PM

Oh you know, the normal places one would get children from...

KurtJuly 4, 2017 2:16 PM

As a parent of two kids who were often exposed to material beyond their age, I still stand by that the ultimate 'starter-horror' is unquestionable Joe Dante's GREMLINS. While it is a fun suburban comedy for most of its running time, it pretty much re-creates ALIEN straight-faced, in the middle, legit scary, and Frances Lee McCain's Ms. Peltzer even looks a bit like Lt. Ripley for the scene.

KurtJuly 4, 2017 2:18 PM

...Shopping mall food courts?

Mateusz R. OrzechJuly 4, 2017 2:27 PM

I don't really remember my first horror film but I got into serious horror phase when I became 12 yrs old. My first horror films that I remember having fun watching while being in elementary school were (in no particular order) "Predator", "Friday the 13th Part IV", first two "A Nightmare on Elm Street" films, "Alien 3" and Hammer classic "The Reptile". I was only scared (REALLY scared) only on two films: "The Thing" and "The Quatermass Xperiment" (for some reason).

My parents were ok with me watching horror films (my dad liked them too, even if he prefers action/thriller flicks) and I naturally went into more gore when I was 14/15 yrs old (it was then when I've seen films like "Cannibal Holocaust" for a first time). My mom later told me that she allowed me watching lighter horror films and was checking my reactions, and since I didn't scare easily, wasn't aggresive and didn't have nightmares I was able to freely dive into more violent stuff without even for once feeling controlled. When I reached films like "Guinea Pig 2" (in early high school) gore slowly lost its fun factor to me as I was also more and more interested in Kurosawa, Kubrick and Leone at the time (watching "For a Few Dollars More" and "A Throne of Blood" when I was 13 yrs old was a real epiphany and only later I could continue exploring these avenues of cinema, since it was not an easy task at the time in my small town) and with "Once Upon a Time in China" and "Chinese Ghost Story" I became also interested in kung fu and wuxia films.

I still remember fondly my early days of getting into films, these first and for me extraoridinary at the time films mentioned above and others ("2001: A Space Odyssey" and "Conan the Barbarian" being the most memorable) shaped my interest not only in movies but in art in general and I'm sure deeply influenced me (as it seems) in a rather positive way. To this day I watch genres from my childhood and am often returning to movies that first made such an impression upon me, many of them are of course horrors.

SplashsquelchJuly 4, 2017 4:09 PM

I made my nephew watch Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman when he was about 7 or 8, he loved it and still does.

FinnfangfoomJuly 4, 2017 4:13 PM

At the risk of being condemned by other, more PC parents at our children's school, I've always made it a point that it's vital to your child's upbringing to have them know your 'classics' before it's too late. At a certain age they just don't want to be bothered with dad's old, slow and shitty movies. So now is the time to mold their movie preferences into something that is actually bearable for me as well. My oldest, who's at the age of 12 now, starts to notice that the older movies take some time to get going, whereas the new ones get their attention immediately by blowing their load in the first five minutes. So I'm glad I took the chance to show them those I consider vital to create a sense of taste in movies at an early age, and make them realize that those new ones sometimes don't hold a candle to the ones from the past. In our household we've never really watched 'Bob The Builder' and the likes. Instead of those we started with movies like Star Wars, E.T. ,Gremlins, Goonies, Ghostbusters, and a bit less obvious choices like Fred Dekker's The Monster Squad, The Last Starfighter and Joe Dante's Explorers. From that they graduated to stuff like Tremors (still a favorite) and Deep Rising. Now I'm at the point that we're watching Chuck Russel's The Blob, Evil Dead 2 and Carpenter's The Thing together. I try to single out the ones that have high entertainment values so the kids don't lose interest in them half way. I'm kind of proud that my kids know what a 'Graboid' or a 'Mogwai' is and what to do when you encounter a 'Grabber' (although I guess that would indeed be considered bad parenting). I try to single out the movies that have high entertainment value so the kids don't lose interest in them half way. Next week we'll start with Riley Scott's Alien, because he is really interested in watching Alien: Covenant after having seen the trailers. So I guess it's time to show him how it's really done, before he ruins his taste for more Alien movies.

Ben UmsteadJuly 4, 2017 4:23 PM

The only film I've ever felt genuine terror from -- and I mean a deeply rooted, heavy terror -- is Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Pulse. So yeah I don't think I'd show these hypothetical kids a slow paced Japanese film set in the days of dial up modems.

So taking that "what was I actually scared of" factor out, there's plenty to go on: Ghostbusters, Gremlins to Sigegel and Kaufman Body Snatchers, Carnival of Souls, Night of the Living Dead, 50s Blob to Carpenter's The Fog then The Thing etc. And if a kid of mine is like me, well... my parents said they made a big mistake when they took 6-year old me to Misery with Kathy Bates, but I had a grand old time.

Michael BatesJuly 4, 2017 4:28 PM

Ben I could not agree with you more on Pulse. That film left me with nightmares for a few days, and to this day I still get the chills when I describe film to those who haven't seen it.

FinnfangfoomJuly 4, 2017 4:34 PM

They don't NEED to be shown horror, but some kids, as I did and still do, actually have fun by being immersed in a scary fantasy setting where everything is possible and the established rules dictated by reality don't count anymore. I agree with you that there's no sense in showing a twelve year old a movie that features rape or horrible massacres, but I do not agree that every scary movie is inappropriate for kids. You probably let your kids watch Harry Potter movies that feature more nightmarish creatures than the ones featured in something like Tremors (which is also much lighter in tone by the way). Scary movies can be fun, and don't necessarily scar your kids for life. You just have to have the common sense to know what you can show them, and I guess that takes to know what they can handle.

YojimboJuly 4, 2017 6:16 PM

The Bakery or a convention of Storks?

Ard VijnJuly 4, 2017 8:27 PM

The exploding heads in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK were by far the most horrifying thing I had ever seen in a cinema, at age twelve. I thought the film was totally awesome, but I didn't dare rewatch the ending until I was fifteen.

JPJuly 4, 2017 11:13 PM

Never forgot watching Pet Sematary 2 and IT back to back. That was fun. But the earliest I remember enjoying a film which I viewed as horror that time is Ladyhawke. Lastly, got into those movies from Full Moon Entertainment (God bless their hearts), with The Pit and the Pendulum as the best of the bunch.

AndrésJuly 5, 2017 2:30 AM

I DO think they should be shown horror. I mean, suitable for them, of course (even if I watched a lot of horror films before I was 10). Why should they? Because, as Neil Gaiman has pointed out, you can give them darkness in small portions, sort of a vaccine. Why do you think fairy tales were gruesome? To show them darkness exists, and that the world isn't just all colorful creatures and good manners, amd that you will have to deal with that. As I said, there are films that can show them that without traumatizing them. I remember films like Gremlins or Indiana Jones films as films that scared me (I watched The Blob, both versions, when I was 10, and before that, Herzog's Nosferatu, and even a film called Shriek of the Mutilated, hahaha, but hey, I watched Blue Velvet when I was 14, so...). You don't have to show them Martyrs to scare them, but dealing with those emotions should be part of anyone growing up as a kid... And I don't feel particularly perverse.

Ard VijnJuly 5, 2017 3:37 AM

Kidlazarus, you're EXACTLY my age.

D_userJuly 5, 2017 4:27 AM

How dare you question my parenting? - This statement makes it worse.

D_userJuly 5, 2017 4:40 AM

Checking the replies here and:
Well, what exactly is horror needs to be defined and understood then, as
age appropriate. Such a question as this article really opens up a huge
discussion and as expected most here get into personal tastes and that
of 'being different' . And the worst ever excuse - children are already
exposed to horror of reality so what much is a horror film then? This is a very very irresponsible statement. So just because a kid has undergone, say the horror of war or a personal one as say sexual abuse, parental abuse, is it understood then that the kid is comfortable with horror ? Research has shown the contrary.

Ard VijnJuly 5, 2017 7:55 AM

I think he's joking.

stripeyJuly 5, 2017 9:37 AM

Well The Thing, of COURSE. That'll learn em

stripeyJuly 5, 2017 9:40 AM

Yes, plus the 'face-off' in Poltergeist I. I can actually remember losing my mind albeit temporarily when i realised what was happening.

ManateeAdvocateJuly 5, 2017 9:57 AM

I'm absolutely despicable in this regard as far as parenting goes when it comes to the pious and ultra PC. I show my kids all kinds of inappropriate shit, but they all react well to it, even comically at times, because they all know that it's fake.

An immediate example would be viewing Ginger Snaps with my 7 year old daughter a few nights ago. I was watching it, she took an interest as she walked by, sat down and watched it to the end. She absolutely loved it so much that she requested it for family movie night the next night. It ended up being a hit with everyone. She demanded that I order the sequels. I told her that I'd have to watch them first before I allowed her to watch them. They're probably crap, but we'll see.

The first horror film I showed my eldest was my favorite film of all time, The Thing (1982). Oh, I can't recall how old she was. Probably 5 or 6. I myself was 6 when I saw it for the first time. To this day, she still claims that she wants to be a special effects make-up artist. She's only 13 at the moment, so, yeah.

My son is only 4, so he's not so much interested in what I have on the screen most of the time. He's currently having fun with The Transformers cartoon from the 80s. I will say this, I just binged the first four seasons of Bates Motel and he took a liking to Norman. He thinks Norman is the good guy. Yeah, I'll keep an eye on him.

I draw the line with graphic rape, graphic sex and/or ultra-extreme violence. Outlier exploitation films and their ilk if any of you gorehound horror fans get me. I'm simply not ready to watch those type of scenes with my daughters. Not sure if I ever will be if I'm honest. Stuff which I find fun and harmless I have no qualms about showing my kids because they know it's all movie magic. I want them to have fun, not give them nightmares.

The first horror film that I ever saw was likely Alien. It's certainly my strongest early horror film memory. I saw it at the Sky Drive-In in Yucca Valley, CA and by the end I was peeking over the back of the bench seat in our van. Loved it then like I love it now. Shortly thereafter I was introduced to Hitchcock films. Other standouts from my youth would be Psycho, The Thing (obviously), Invasion of the Body Snatchers ('56 and '78 versions) and embarrassingly enough both Them and Empire of the Ants got under my skin as a kid.

ManateeAdvocateJuly 5, 2017 9:58 AM

I still love a lot of those schlock Full Moon flicks. Loads of fun.

ManateeAdvocateJuly 5, 2017 10:03 AM

I can dig it. Anytime my eldest asks me to check out a horror film trailer which I find to be insulting or dumb I immediately do the ole "Hey, that looks kinda lame, but have you ever seen *insert superlative horror film title here*? That typically leads to us watching a cool horror film together. I don't admonish her for wanting to see garbage, but I'm not going to miss an opportunity to see is she's interested in better films from days of yore.

ManateeAdvocateJuly 5, 2017 10:07 AM

Wow. I kinda posted a similar experience. Glad I'm not fully alone in this regard.

ManateeAdvocateJuly 5, 2017 10:08 AM

Yeah, I'm not ready to watch Straw Dogs with my kids.

ManateeAdvocateJuly 5, 2017 10:11 AM

This was fun Ard. I enjoyed drudging up fond memories and reading the many responses below. Discussions like this are right up my alley. I need to check out Seeding of a Ghost now. Thanks!

FinnfangfoomJuly 5, 2017 10:27 AM

Look, I get your point. But I think you're thinking a bit too much in extremes as far as what is labeled as horror in your opinion. This topic isn't even really about that. We're talking about scary movies. Think of it as going on a rollercoaster thrill ride. Unless you've got a heart condition, it should be fun. Kinda scary, but also fun. Some of these scary movies have the same effect as said rollercoaster. Remember the cheap scares that make you jump out of your seat, and the way you laugh it off afterwards? I see nothing wrong with that.

Andreas FJuly 5, 2017 11:09 AM

So I was thinking of taking my 2,5 year old to see Spirited Away on big screen next wednesday (it's admission free and in swedish so she'll understand). Not sure if it's a good idea or if it's too early. The recommended age is from 7 years old so... it's quite early, heh. She loves watching stuff and can easily become "lost". She talks about monsters and ghosts being scary. Maybe it's not as scary now as a few weeks ago but maybe Spirited Away will change that back, or make it worse.

Ben de KlosJuly 5, 2017 12:38 PM

Of course I watched all these alone, sneakily either on tv or on video. Just wanted to express what I felt like watching as a kid. Stuff that was "dangerous". It started my love for movies.

ManateeAdvocateJuly 5, 2017 12:52 PM

My mistake. I didn't catch that you were watching these films as a child on the down low.

bricriu .July 5, 2017 2:08 PM

i showed my ex's kids dead alive. they loved it. so over the top it didnt really frighten them. "poop rope" was a long standing household joke.

YojimboJuly 5, 2017 2:23 PM

No children.
But I have babysat for friends and family a number of times and when that pesky child wont go to bed it's Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer time.
If that fails the DSM-IV comes out as Uncle Yojimbo strokes his chin in contemplation.
Parents: "did our beloved go to bed on time"
Yojimbo: "Nope I think the apple of your eye has latent psychopathy"
Parents: "Why?"
Yojimbo: "He sat up with me and watched Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer"
Parents: " O O WHAAAT!!!!" get out of our house and take that film with you"
Yojimbo: "I have the film here"
Parents: "so whats the film sitting in our player"
Yojimbo: " That's for you guys"
Parents: "What is it?"
Yojimbo: "We Need to Talk About Kevin "
Uncle Yojimbo then disappears in a cloud of green smoke " Mua Ha Ha Ha" (Green is this seasons in colour of smoke for the Fashionista Ninja)

ManateeAdvocateJuly 5, 2017 3:45 PM


ManateeAdvocateJuly 5, 2017 3:45 PM

Great choice.

kidlazarusJuly 5, 2017 4:01 PM

This reads a lot like my youth and kids. The eldest is into the Alien films. The youngest grew out of his Evil Dead phase and has been all about Edgar Wright ever since Scott Pilgrim came out on dvd. Over July 4 weekend we caught Baby Driver. Now, at 14, his most anticipated movie is Goon 2.

ManateeAdvocateJuly 5, 2017 4:05 PM

Nice! Goon 2 is one of my most anticipated films at the moment too. I hope it has the heart of the first one.

Ben UmsteadJuly 5, 2017 4:33 PM

My answer comes with this prologue: my parents are early childhood specialists and I used to work as an aide for special needs kids.

I would say you need to be very wary about what any child under 3 sees. As you know, their brains are still in that initial development stage, so screen time should be entirely supervised for no more than an hour a day (with wiggle room on movies) or just not happening until after that 3rd birthday.

Has she been to the movie theater before? What was that experience like for her and for you? Was it exhausting? Positive? A mixed-bag? And when she talks about monsters and ghosts being scary what is the context... How does she know about them? I think these factors will determine a lot.

Overall, it would probably be best to steer clear of Spirited Away until she is in the 5 range. Begin with the gentler Totoro or Kiki. Gauge how she reacts to some of the transformations in Totoro and the high-stakes flying in Kiki, talk to her about what she was feeling in these sequences, how she feels for the characters and so on.

Ard VijnJuly 5, 2017 6:42 PM

You should; SEEDING OF A GHOST is on the same level of batshit crazy as THE 1000-YEAR-OLD CAT and THE SEVENTH CURSE.

KurtJuly 6, 2017 9:47 AM
guestJuly 9, 2017 8:54 AM

first one i remember seeing was bride of frankenstein around the age of 4 or 5.

the scene where karloff's frankie is drinking and smoking with the blind guy just freaked me out. lol.